L&D Best Practices: Sept./Oct. 2012

Strategies to foster technology innovation and implementation and onboarding.

Training magazine taps 2012 Training Top 125 winners and Top 10 Hall of Famers to provide their learning and development best practices in each issue. Here, we look at strategies to foster technology innovation and implementation and onboarding.


By Lou Tedrick, SVP-Workforce Development, Verizon

A chef eats the food she prepares. A mechanic fixes his own car. An accountant balances her own checkbook. And at Verizon, employees use the technology they sell.

We have the latest technology and, we believe, the best network. We’ve seen what this combination can do for our customers, so why not use it ourselves? Our internal Learning & Development teams work to find innovative ways to use our network and our products—as well as emerging learning technology—to increase employees’ absorption, retention, and application so they can drive business results.

Virtual Classroom Delivery

When geographic constraints and conflicting training priorities made it impossible for Verizon to use its traditional approach to introduce a new online scheduling tool in Verizon Wireless retail stores, the company looked to technology for a new solution. Using Webcams coupled with WebEx, trainers connected “live” with all learners, conducting virtual activities as if they were physically in the classroom. They shared their desktops with learners, who completed tasks virtually and then shared results with the full group.

Essra Kibler, associate director, Training, Verizon, points out that the technology helped the trainers to read learners’ physical responses, see their “aha”learning moments, and adjust their delivery just as they would if they were physically in the classroom.

“Participants said this learning experience was a ‘best practice.’ It was as engaging and effective as being in a physical classroom, and it was superior to a traditional Webinar during which learners were apt to multitask,” Kibler notes. “We netted a savings of $59,000 in travel costs alone with just a $20 per-participant Webcam investment.”

Innovative Assessment, Remediation, and Reinforcement

Verizon’s Enterprise Services sales team recently began using Salesforce.com (SFDC) as its new Customer Relationship Management platform. “We faced an aggressive launch time line, needing to train nearly 5,000 sales employees globally during a brief systems black-out window,” explains Michael Sunderman, executive director, Training & Development, Verizon. “We decided on a blended learning approach that combined self-paced training; digital user guides with video snippets; and live, in-branch sessions hosted by approximately 260 SFDC Heroes worldwide. ”SFDC Heroes, Sunderman adds, were nominated by their leaders for their systems savvy, enthusiasm for SFDC, and willingness to embrace change. “Their roles included championing change, being a first-pass help desk subject matter expert (SME), and acting as a local trainer. With SFDC Heroes in most branches, we leveraged ‘feet on the street’ to help address questions or issues quickly.”

The Heroes’ learning solution was an intensive, three-day instructor-led training. That was followed by virtual train-the-trainer sessions to prepare the Heroes to roll the training out to the local branches during Launch Week.

With the learning approach identified, the question became how to best prepare the Heroes for their role. “Heroes downloaded the Q MINDshare by count5 software to their desktops,” Sunderman says. “This interactive, measurable tool enabled the L&D Team to quiz the Heroes on pre-instructor-led-training (ILT) courses, helping to identify where to place additional focus during the ILT.”

Once the software was installed, the team pushed questions that appeared as a desktop pop-up at a predetermined assigned date and time. Heroes had the option to delay responding until a more convenient time. The software provided remediation for missed questions, placing them back into the queue, giving Heroes repeated chances to answer correctly. A similar approach was designed for the train-the-trainer sessions, allowing the L&D Team to target reinforcement sessions around the greatest areas of need, ensuring the Heroes were well-prepared.

“Our 90 percent completion rate of the assigned Q MINDshare questions was high, and our Heroes were well prepared for launch,” reports Sunderman. “Based on the success of this learning approach, we’re looking for similar opportunities to apply this software.”

Web Application for Learning

Verizon employees use mobile technology, specifically tablets, in the classroom. That means no more three-ring binders to lug back to the office. But it isn’t quite as simple as loading static PDF content onto tablets.

“Our tablet learning solution, the Learning Album, is a pure Web application supported on all versions of the iPad and several Android tablets,” explains Andrew Bishop, manager, Training, Verizon.

The Learning Album centralizes the learning experience in a single platform. Albums contain a series of “playlists, ”which are collections of text, videos, podcasts, interactions, and quiz questions.

“Think of it as taking the best of traditional ILT and OLT and mashing them together. Learners watch videos at their own speed, participate in interactive role-plays, and take notes on any page in an Album,” Bishop says.

Learners’ customizations are saved to the cloud and can be downloaded later on a different device. Since learners access Learning Albums over the Internet, they always see the latest content with their notes automatically reapplied in context.

These Learning Albums also provide a better facilitation experience for trainers. Every page of content features instructor notes so trainers know exactly what to cover rather than flipping between pages in PDFs. Trainers can add personalized notes that are saved to the cloud.

The hope is to cut prep time in half, eliminating tedious tasks such as transferring instructor notes. Likewise, Learning Albums will significantly reduce or eliminate the cost of printed materials.

Bishop also plans to integrate more social functionality, give users the ability to personalize their Learning Albums in more sophisticated ways, and implement class management tools so trainers can monitor and support learner progress, whether they’re sitting in the classroom or studying on their own.

“Feedback from Learning Album users has been positive,” reports Bishop. “Learners find that the format creates a much richer learning experience—one that lets them use the products they sell and support—and trainers find it much easier to train from a Learning Album than a printed document or electronic PDF. The classroom has gone digital…it’s about time!”


By Zach Sumsion, Senior Technical Training Specialist, Corporate Training, CHG Healthcare

Every industry is becoming more and more dependent upon technology. As new technology emerges, the best companies pursue the competitive edge that these advances provide by upgrading outdated technology. Whether your organization leads its industry into the future by seeking out cutting-edge innovations or waits until technologies become industry standards, all companies must have a strategy for bringing these innovations to their employees. And it starts with training.

Technical implementations can be as simple as upgrading an existing piece of software used by a small number of employees, or as complex as replacing the technological infrastructure that acts as the backbone of your organization’s operations. The ideas discussed here can apply to all types and sizes of technical implementations.

Deployment Approach: Big Bang or Phased?

Perhaps the biggest single decision the project team makes is whether to deploy the new technology to the entire company overnight (big bang) or in several smaller rollouts over time (phased). This also may be the most important stage in the planning process for Training & Development to have a voice. Deployment considerations include:

1. Size of the Rollout: The number of trainees will play a factor in each of the considerations to follow, but simply put: The larger the group, the more pronounced the benefits of a phased rollout become.

2. Significance of the Technology to Your Organization: If the new technology is significant enough or complex enough to require heavy support after go-live, then a big-bang approach will be difficult to pull off. However, if the tool is not widely used, is not critical to day-to-day affairs, or the expected support after go-live is minimal, then a big-bang approach would be the best use of resources for any group—large or small.

When CHG Healthcare upgraded its Microsoft operating system from Windows XP to Windows 7, it managed a big-bang rollout for 1,400 employees, primarily using an e-learning module and other online resources. However, when it replaced the largest division’s sales tracking system, a phased approach was the only option. The significance of this system to the business was simply too great, and the support after go-live simply too involved. The first rollout took eight hours for 1,400 employees. The second rollout took eight months for 400 employees.

3. Training Resources: In general, the big-bang approach is much easier to train, and much more difficult to support. Training everyone in a day or a week results in a fraction of the total hours trained, but do you have the support staff in place to keep your organization from screeching to a halt while dozens or even hundreds of employees learn a new piece of technology simultaneously? The stakes also are much higher with the big-bang approach when something unexpected occurs (that never happens, right?). The phased approach is much more forgiving of technical difficulties and other unforeseen obstacles.

4. Physical Resources: Physical resources may be an IT problem at your organization, but they are a major training consideration. Do you have the physical resources (computers, rooms, etc.) to accommodate either rollout strategy? Assuming your implementation requires a hands-on approach (see below), you may not have the volume of resources needed for the big-bang approach. The phased approach requires a much smaller volume of resources at a time, but it ties them up for weeks or months. Physical resources are an example where some training decisions can end up being dictated by other factors.

Which Delivery Method Should You Use?

The delivery methods you have at your disposal will influence the above factors, and likewise, deployment approach considerations will play a part in which delivery method is chosen. Considerations:

Hands-On vs. Show and Tell: Does the new technology require a hands-on experience or can you simply get employees in a room and address the key talking points? Is the rollout more about communication or training? If employees need traditional training, there is no substitute for a hands-on environment, with the ability to follow along and experience the product firsthand. Yet, many smaller rollouts can be accomplished by getting one well-constructed message to the group before go-live, and then pointing them to additional resources for ongoing support.

Classroom vs. E-Learning vs. Blended: If you are already a developer of e-learning, you will use the same criteria you always have used to discern whether e-learning is right for this particular project. Other considerations include:

  • How many times would the e-learning be used during implementation? If you have settled on the big-bang approach and the module will only replace a day or two of classroom training, you must decide if you can see a return on the investment that goes into development of the module. If the module will be used many times over the course of several phases, return on investment is much clearer.
  • What is the expected shelf life for your would-be e-learning? Often, training offerings need to exist long after go-live—either for new hire training or as an on-demand resource for existing employees. The question to ask is whether the modules you design for implementation also can serve as ongoing resources.

Executing the Plan

The best advice for this stage of the project is to develop your training strategy, prepare to execute your training strategy, and be flexible enough to change your strategy at the drop of a hat. With technical training, it is common for training decisions (or at the very least, decisions that affect training outcomes) to be made by those other than training professionals. There are simply too many moving parts in a large implementation, and training is merely one of them. Others will not be thinking about how every decision affects the training—that’s your job! Your role is to argue the position of the training professional, but then be able to flex with the needs of a living project—even if that means re-strategizing on the fly. Some considerations:

Limit Your Training Before Go-Live: First instinct is to design the training so that all topics are covered before go-live. But if you are dealing with a sizeable implementation, this may not be the best approach. CHG frontloaded its training on a large-scope project, only to realize that learners were unable to retain it all. To avoid information overload, train on some of the more intricate processes after go-live. Learners will always struggle with retention
when there is little or no context for the processes you are teaching them. Saving some of the more advanced
or detailed processes for when there is an increased level of context will result in increased retention for these
topics. Address these topics too early and you simply will end up addressing them twice.

Make It Real: Teaching just about the tool will be enough for some, but many users will not be able to connect the dots until they understand how this new information applies in the world they already know. Start with general system training (a system overview, general navigation, etc.), and then move into scenarios of how the tool would be used in their job. One strategy that facilitates better scenario-based learning is to break your training groups up by functional role. For CHG’s large implementation, we held introductory classes for all learners, and then broke into role-based tracks, which allowed for much more detailed and realistic scenarios.

For complex implementations, the best strategy for making the learning experience as real as possible is to follow training week with on-the-job support. Learners’ attitudes are much improved when they understand the training is merely a starting point, one that provides a foundation of basic knowledge that is mutual among all learners. You likely will find that on-the-job support is where most of the learning takes place.

These are just a few ideas to get you started on your technical implementation. Decide which deployment approach is right for your project, choose a delivery method, and make sure your training plan is thorough, yet flexible. In the end, it’s all training, so harness your inner trainer, and you’ll be ready for the unexpected.


By Mary Smith, Development Specialist – Human Resources, and
Charlie Cutshall, Service Delivery Manager – Human Resources, Sprint

We probably all can agree that new hire programs quickly enable a new employee to become a productive team member; assist with retention, motivation, and job satisfaction; and are an opportunity to validate the employee’s decision to join your organization. New employees come to companies with diverse backgrounds and are hired for a variety of roles, but many onboarding programs—including the previous Sprint new employee orientation (NEO)—are one size fits all.

To enhance the new hire experience, Sprint University (SU), in partnership with Sprint’s Employee Experience team, redesigned NEO to create a personalized, organized, self-managed, user-driven experience that provides a clear understanding and connection to the business, culture, and strategy while reducing time to proficiency and increasing employee commitment. SU departed from the traditional lecture and presentation format by implementing a format that more closely aligns with how people acquire and use information. Since Sprint employees are geographically dispersed and range from front-line employees directly serving customers to support organizations in our corporate offices, it was important that our updated NEO be accessible from anywhere at any time.

Welcome to Sprint

In June 2011, Sprint launched Welcome to Sprint, a personalized, online experience enabling quick connection and socialization to the company’s resources, brand, and culture. It begins with an audio guide who introduces himself and asks the new employee questions. A personalized home screen is built based upon the employee’s answers, along with the priority items identified by the employee’s business unit. The employee selects topics to explore first, which become top items on the site, along with topics to discuss further with his or her manager. The media area scrolls with information on foundational topics based on the employee’s profile.

Employees who prefer a more structured, linear approach can select a tab at the top of the screen. The tabs provide lists of activities/topics to explore based upon the length of time with the company (first 30 days, days 31-60, days 61-90) or by selecting the resources tab for an alphabetical listing of all topics. The site keeps track of what day the employee is on from the first day Welcome to Sprint was accessed. When employees complete a topic, it is automatically recorded on their checklist.

When a topic is selected, a pop-up window appears with a media-rich introduction and links to more detail. The site was designed with efficiency in mind, so when employees click on a link for additional details, they are directed to the appropriate area on our intranet. The business owner keeps the intranet content up to date. This ensures that employees are receiving the most current information and also eliminates rework. With our previous NEO tool, anytime intranet content was updated, our developers had to update similar content within NEO. The new NEO ensures the content stays fresh and is easy to maintain.

A commonly asked question-and-answer section addresses the most common questions new employees have. Upon completion, Welcome to Sprint is available for the employee to reference. In addition to the resources on Welcome to Sprint, there is an area on our internal, online community, Sprint Space, where new employees can ask questions and interact with one another.

Manager Involvement

Because manager involvement is crucial to effectively engaging new employees, we needed to make sure that managers were integrated into the process. An e-mail is sent to the manager on the first day; first week; and 30, 60, and 90 days. This notification links to an activity summary and provides suggestions of actions the manager needs to take. This keeps the manager engaged with what’s going on with the new employee.

While Welcome to Sprint was intended as a resource for new Sprint employees, we recognize that all Sprint employees may find helpful information on the site. So we have encouraged any employees who are interested to check it out.

Recent surveys of new employees indicate they feel welcome, know who to contact to get needed information, and have the tools they need on the first day. Specifically, 95 percent of respondents favorably responded to, “My manager and co-workers did a great job of making me feel welcome as I began my career at Sprint.”Additionally, 92 percent of respondents indicated they know who to contact in order to do their job. Both of these results are increases from the baseline data prior to Welcome to Sprint.


If you are looking to create a NEO program for a geographically dispersed workforce with many different needs, here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Don’t reinvent content: If the content already exists and is maintained by business owners, provide a brief introduction through NEO but link to existing content for details.
  • Make it interactive and personalized: Allow new employees to provide up front information that allows you to personalize the experience to meet their needs.
  • Keep the manager involved: Make sure you provide managers with tools to track their employee’s progress and have conversations with their employee about their new work environment and job.
Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.